History of the NH Town Clerk

The Office of Town Clerk can be traced back in its origin to the first settlements in the State, which were made under proprietary land grants in the Province of New Hampshire.

Proprietors of the early settlements in New Hampshire elected clerks to keep a record of proprietary proceedings. In some towns, however, the predecessor of the clerk seems to have been the secretary of the court or body of freemen.

New England Dominion
During the period of the New England Dominion, when government was centralized in Boston, town clerks were appointed by judicial authorities; but in 1699, the second provincial period, it was enacted that the office was to be elective in each town. By 1804, it was stated that the clerk should be elected by ballot, as it is at present.

Early Duties
Among the early duties of the town clerk was the task of recording births and burials. In 1693 an act was passed stating that “the Clark (is) to return Every quarter of a year, a List of all Marrages Bearthes and Burialls unto the Register Appointed for the Province” By 1849 the duties of receiving vital statistics were clearly outlined, and the clerk was required to make annual reports of these statistics to the Secretary of State.

Early Acts Regulating Voting
Early acts which regulated voting entrusted several duties to the town clerk. The duty of recording votes was given him with certain specific regulations. He was required to record the minutes of the town meetings, including therein a copy of the warrant and all votes cast for and against any articles in it. He was also required to administer the oaths of office and of allegiance and to record the names of all persons sworn into any town office. The New Hampshire Constitution of 1784 required votes for state and national officers be recorded by him, and he was made responsible for recording votes for county offices as well.

Maintaining Records
By 1800 the town clerk was required to maintain records of selectmen’s assessments and invoices, the sale of land for taxes, attachments, liens, and mortgages. Since 1754 he has been required to draw the names of jurors. (Note: jury selection is no longer conducted by city or town clerks.) Other miscellaneous duties include licensing and acting as secretary between the town and various state officials.

Major Duties
Today the major duties of the clerk include caring for the town records, recording vital statistics, issuing permits and licenses, and acting as an election official. Other duties include writing reports, administering oaths, and furnishing information to townspeople and to other local and state officials.

[Source: The Town Clerk in New Hampshire. University of NH: Durham. August, 1958.]